An experienced pathologist told the High Court in Glasgow today (Friday) that it was 'unlikely' Liam Aitchison had died on November 23rd as has been argued by the Crown case.
At the ongoing trial of Johnathan Mackinnon and Stefan Millar (both 22) - who are accused of murdering the teenager at a house in Steinish - the first witness called by the defence was Professor Anthony Busuttil (67). Professor Busuttil has more than 30 years of experience which includes his role in charge of pathology in several high profile cases such as the Dunblane School massacre and the Lockerbie Air disaster.
Professor Busuttil was asked to carry out a post mortem on Liam Aitchison’s body on behalf of the defence. He was asked by Mr Paterson about the issues regarding rigor mortis and decomposition.
Professor Busuttil stressed that no pathologist was able to say exactly when someone had died as it was not ‘an exact science’ but that given the evidence before him in this case, he found the suggestion that Liam Aitchison had died on November 23rd to be ‘unlikely’. In the report by Dr Rankin, who gave evidence to the court yesterday (Thursday) she had concluded that when she first examined the body she found that rigor mortis had almost completely set in. She said her findings were consistent with the view that Liam Aitchison had died on November 23rd.
Given that Liam was allegedly murdered on November 23rd and then his body had lain undiscovered until November 29th and was examined by Dr Rankin the day after, Professor Busuttil said he had difficulty with the timing and he would have expected rigor mortis to have receded by the time it was examined if the deceased had died on the 23rd.
He was also struck by the lack of evidence of decomposition in the body given the time scale. He said it was usual for a body to first show signs of decomposition by discolouration on the left side of the lower abdomen. In an average environment at room temperature, he would expect this to be seen within 12 to 14 hours after death. Liam’s body showed no signs of this discolouration.
Professor Busuttil said: “I would have thought that the passage of days is unlikely, the body wouldn’t have died when the incident was supposed to have occurred. In my view it is unlikely.”
Prosecutor Iain McSporran asked Professor Busuttil if it was possible that Liam had died on November 23rd?
He replied: “In medicine everything is possible, some things are more possible or probable than others. Sometimes we are surprised by exceptions to the general rule.”
He said he had not examined Liam’s body at the scene and said that the environment in which his body lay could have been a factor in delaying the process of rigor mortis and decomposition.
Both men deny the charges against them. The trial before Lord Kinclaven will continue on Tuesday.
A further report of today’s proceedings will appear later this evening.